To me a life well lived is to spend one’s time here on earth enjoying the beauty and perfection of all we see and do. To walk in this existence with a sense of reverence, respect, and appreciation for everything around us is the key; to aspire toward an understanding of our relationships within this realm is to make the most of this experience of living. For me, painting is a medium whereby I am able to appreciate and respect aspects of the natural world I find compelling enough to look at more deeply and in so doing, communicate to others the pleasure and peace I find there.
Thomas Michael Wolfe was born August 3, 1953, in Livingston, Montana. Some of his earliest memories are of the Crazy Mountain range out the front window and across the pastures of the ranch where his parents lived and worked.. During his formative years the family increased by two brothers and moved around Montana, eventually landing in Spokane, Washington, where his father got a job as a financial advisor for an established firm and Tom was educated through high school. During this time he showed his early artistic bent by winning state and national honors in a prestigious art contest as well as founding and participating in an art club in high school. His summers were spent back in beloved Montana at his maternal grandfather’s cabin on the Still water River beneath the Beartooth Mountains.
Tom was influenced by an artistic family and during these years his mother was a painter and sculptor. She also founded and ran the Spokane Art School. His father relaxed from the office pursuing his favorite hobbies: making fine wine and sculpting in metal and bronze.
In 1977 Wolfe graduated from the University of Western Washington at Bellingham, Washington, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a minor in art. Post college years found him in Alaska where he lived with an Athabascan Indian family who taught him hunting, fishing, and woodsman ship. Although he already had an appreciation for nature, they showed him how an entire culture evolved and revolved within that appreciation.
In 1981 Tom left Alaska on a dog sled pulled by ten huskies and spent eight months crossing the Rocky Mountains and following them south back to his grandfathers cabin in Montana. He paid his way on the journey by painting watercolors of his dogs and local scenery. Upon his return to the Beartooth Mountains he used his outdoor skills working for outfitters taking tourists on summer pack trips and fall hunting trips with horses.
In 1984 Tom saddled his horse, threw a pack on a mule, whistled up the dogs and rode through the mountains to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he worked more hunting camps, wrangling and packing horses and mules through the fall. For a couple of winters he guided tourists by dog team around Jackson’s Teton and Gros Ventre Mountains. It was here, hanging around the upscale galleries of the1980's Jackson Hole art scene that Tom realized it was an option to turn an artistic bent into an profession. At that time he was a young man with no ties and the whole world before him, however, and in the spring he saddled up and rode farther south through the Red Desert to the Colorado border before turning around and heading back toward Montana and the Beartooth. Winter found him in the Gros Ventre Mountains waiting out the deep winter snows care taking a cabin for the lieutenant governor of South Dakota. The cabin was at 8,500 feet surrounded by the Bridger/ Teton Wilderness and winter was " a long time leavin’" as the old mountain men would say. Few mountain men had such toney accommodations but still, the cabin was ten miles from a plowed road and another stretch to town. (Pinedale, Wyoming) In the winter there was a good 15 to 20 feet of snow up that high and there weren’t many visitors other than the most hardy. There was ample time to paint, however, and by spring Tom had over two hundred water colors and pencil sketches. He sold some of these and used the money to pay for supplies. Once the grass turned green in the high country he saddled the ponies and pointed them north, once again traversing Yellowstone Park to the northern part of the Greater Yellowstone eco system and the highest mountains in Montana: the Beartooth.
After another stint as a guide Tom took the state exam and received his outfitter license. He worked as an outfitter in his favorite range for the next twenty years. Summers were spent in some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world and winters were spent painting it. Charlie Russell said it was a lucky man who was able to make a living doing what he loved to do and Tom was doing what he loved to do. It was during this time that the aspiring artist found a painting mentor in established landscape painter Hal Diteman of Billings, Montana. The two painted together for twelve years and to this day Tom credits Diteman for teaching him oils and helping him hone his craft. Other artists who have studied with Diteman include Clyde Aspevig and Charlie Fritz. Hall passed away early in 2009. Tom was asked to say a few words at the funeral and this eulogy can be found as an attatchment in the artist updates from March 9, 2009. It is useful in understanding one of the major art influences in Tom's life.
In the mid 1990's Tom accompanied his father on a museum tour of France and England where the elder continued to expose the son to some of the world’s finest art. There was ample time for painting along the way. A few years later Tom made another art pilgrimage on a painting tour of Italy.
After selling his outfitting business the artist built a cabin near Nye, Montana, not far from his grandfather’s cabin. He now resides there and can look out the window at his beautiful Beartooth Mountains and paint to his heart’s content. Summers are spent packing the horses up in the high country. His work can be found throughout the United States and Canada.